Pushback against Red-tagging
Broadcast journalist Alfonso Tomas “Atom” Araullo’s P2.07-million civil suit against TV hosts Lorraine Badoy-Partosa and Jeffrey Celiz for Red-tagging him and his mother is a laudable, if overdue, move against the systematic intimidation of critics speaking out against government’s policies.
Araullo said the two have been using their talk show over Sonshine Media Network International to accuse him of being “a member of the Communist Party [of the Philippines] (CPP) or at least an enabler,” and for describing his mother, veteran activist Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, as an “urban infiltrator” and “a top recruiter for the CPP-NPA (New People’s Army) while posing as a human rights defender.”
Badoy-Partosa is facing several complaints for similarly labeling other outspoken critics as spokesperson of the Duterte administration’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac). Celiz, a self-proclaimed former rebel, is her cohost in the program, “Laban Kasama ang Bayan,” aired over the network owned by Duterte supporter, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a fugitive from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is facing sex trafficking and money smuggling charges in the United States.
“There is no doubt that defendants maliciously used their very public program as a vehicle, not to present a purportedly fair and unbiased report, but rather to launch their ‘personal attacks’ against the plaintiff and his mother, in utter contempt and in willful disregard of their rights … without an iota of verifiable proof,” the younger Araullo said in his complaint.
The 47-page complaint is also intended to “hold [the two] accountable for their wrongful acts and to highlight how [R]ed-tagging foments hate, abuse, and violence against journalists and truth-tellers,” said Araullo’s lawyer Antonio “Tony” La Viña from the Movement Against Disinformation.
“Mr. Araullo’s resolve to file this case is in support of a broader pushback against Red-tagging and the spread of disinformation that suppresses democratic discourse and the rule of law,” the group said.
Red-tagging, or linking individuals to the outlawed communist NPA without discernible proof, has become the favored tactic among state agents to discredit government critics. It has flagrantly been used to silence rights activists, lawyers, judges, and even celebrities, as former anti-communist task force spokesperson and retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. did to actress Liza Soberano when the latter had a discourse with the women’s group Gabriela that, Parlade claimed, is a terrorist front. Also Red-tagged were Nobel Laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, former Bayan party list Rep. Neri Colmenares, and military officer now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, whose Red-tagging, according to Inquirer columnist Joel Butuyan, “bolsters claims that [Red-tagging] … amounts to an irresponsible witch hunt aimed at stifling all forms of dissent.”
Alas, such unwarranted association with the communist movement has become a handy excuse to arrest, detain, and kill critics and militants, among them rights activist Zara Alvarez who was shot dead in Bacolod by unknown assailants in August 2020, and environment activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, who were abducted in Orion, Bataan, on Sept. 2.
“This dangerous narrative is used to justify arrests, trumped-up charges, surveillance, and other forms of harassment against human rights defenders, including journalists,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said. The group has recorded 19 incidents of Red-tagging under the administration of President Marcos. It cited the case of journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who had been subjected to surveillance, was arrested in Tacloban City in 2020, and remains in jail over what NUJP described as fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and financing terrorism.
While former interior secretary Eduardo Año in November 2020 said that “Red-tagging is not part of [government] agenda, nor is it our policy,” Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ recent pronouncement is hardly reassuring. Early this week, Martires said that a formal complaint filed against several NTF-Elcac officials in 2022 has been dismissed because “there is no law that prohibits [R]ed-tagging.” Martires appeared before the House committee on appropriations after Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel inquired about the status of the case against Parlade and Badoy-Partosa.
Araullo’s complaint, however, charges Badoy-Partosa and Celiz with violations of civil rights under the Civil Code.
At the very least, Araullo’s complaint and those of several others before it should serve notice that the public is ready to push back and take on the government on its claim that Red-tagging is not part of its policy, while challenging lawmakers to remedy the gap in the law. It is after all our duty as responsible citizens to speak up on the malaise of governance, undaunted by this pernicious tactic with its often lethal consequences.